Establishing a Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet

Closed 14 Jan 2021

Opened 1 Dec 2020

Feedback updated 8 Mar 2021

We asked

We asked for your views on a proposed approach to establishing a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet for Scotland. The consultation included six questions of which five offered multiple choice options on the degree of support for the proposals set out. We also asked for any further comments on the specific questions and more generally.

You said

In total, 27 responses to the consultation were received from individuals (9) and organisations (18). Across all of the consultation questions, there was a high level of support for our proposed approach. At least 25 out of the 26 respondents to each multiple-choice question supported (either fully or partially) the proposals.

In summary, there was much consensus among respondents on:

  • Scope: wide support for the SNBS being as comprehensive as possible in terms of its coverage and level of detail for all sectors of the economy and the environment.
  • Spatial resolution: wide support for a national SNBS being extended to a range of more detailed spatial scales, but also some concerns about data availability and potential burdens associated with any new data collections.
  • Setting targets: support from most respondents for the setting of targets for improving nitrogen use efficiency based on the SNBS, once the evidence base is sufficiently established to allow for this to be done robustly.
  • Update/review frequency: support from most respondents for the SNBS being updated on an annual basis, but also some concerns that this frequency might only be appropriate for the headline figures.
  • Accessibility of outputs: wide support for the outputs associated with the SNBS being made as accessible as possible, subject to this not compromising technical robustness.
  • Integrated policy development: wide support for the SNBS being fully integrated with other policy frameworks and strategies.

Other suggestions included:

  • Many respondents suggested a range of wider actions for reducing nitrogen losses and improving nitrogen use efficiency.
  • Several respondent organisations made positive offers of collaborative working around the ongoing design and future implementation of the SNBS.

We did

We have carefully considered your responses.

The majority of responses were supportive of all of the Scottish Government proposals for establishing the Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet. As a result, we will begin the process of preparing draft legislation to establish the Balance Sheet on the basis of these approaches. This Statutory Instrument - along with its accompanying documentation – will be laid in the Scottish Parliament well in advance of the March 2022 deadline for establishing the Balance Sheet.

Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 requires the establishment of a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet for Scotland by March 2022, via a process of regulations. The Scottish Government is now consulting on proposals for establishing a Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet (SNBS).

Nitrogen is a basic building block of life and present everywhere across the economy and environment. A Nitrogen Balance Sheet is a way to keep track of how nitrogen is being used, any losses to the environment and whether there is scope for improvement.

In particular, the Scottish Nitrogen Balance Sheet (SNBS) will provide a method for determining a baseline figure for “Nitrogen Use Efficiency” in Scotland. Nitrogen use efficiency means the proportion of nitrogen used for its intended purpose (e.g. growing food) vs. losses to the environment, which can have harmful effects on, for example, climate change, biodiversity, air quality and water quality. Once established, the SNBS will be reviewed and updated at regular intervals, helping us keep track of progress on improving nitrogen use efficiency.

The main purpose, as set out in the 2019 Act, for the SNBS will be to support progress to Scotland’s national climate change targets. This is because one form of nitrogen - nitrous oxide, N2O - is an important greenhouse gas. Improving nitrogen use efficiency will, therefore, help with tackling climate change. However, the fact that nitrogen in all of its many forms is basically everywhere (in the air we breathe, soils, plants, water, animals, food production, combustion, waste management, etc) means that the SNBS will also have the potential to support a range of wider applications (some key examples around air quality and agriculture are discussed below). The Scottish Government is keen to maximise the potential of the new evidence base from the SNBS to support linkages between as wide a range of policy areas as possible.

Why your views matter

As part of a programme of engagement, the Scottish Government is consulting on key aspects of the approach to shape this new initiative.

Read the consultation paper. 

What happens next

A report summarising the responses received will be published.

We expect that there will be a further stage in the engagement process, in the form of a plenary workshop later in 2021, where the responses would be presented and discussed.

Regulations will be laid in Parliament for agreement in advance of the statutory deadline in March 2022.


  • Economy
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Farming and Rural
  • Marine and Fisheries
  • Transport